David Kelly reflects on a trip to Wembley for the midweek friendly between England and Ireland.
Wednesday was a bit of an historic occasion for me. I left Belfast on what arguably turned out to be the sunniest day of the year, and went to London, where I was greeted by grey clouds and miserable rain.
That’s not the historic bit though, for I was off to Wembley Stadium to see England face the Republic of Ireland, for the first time since the last meeting was marred by crowd disturbances, eighteen years ago.
It was also the first time I had been to see either of these teams compete, I’ve seen both of them hundreds of times on the telly box but never up close and personal, so I was glad to see that my cousin had managed to get us some really good seats.
Being Irish, (we’ll not get into the complexities that I’m actually Norn Irish) I, my brother and my cousins took our seats with what was a fairly impressive number that made up the travelling support. The mood was one of fun; the banter or, as we say in Ireland, the craic, was up at a high level, somewhere around ninety, there or thereabouts.
The Irish were in full song and the stadium practically erupted when Shane Long directed a fantastic cross into the corner of a sprawling Joe Hart’s net.
We couldn’t have anticipated such a great or early goal yet all of a sudden we were to be the giant killers and a huge upset was on the cards for the Three Lions, prior to their trip to the warmer climes of Brazil.
The Irish support weren’t at their most respectful when it came to singing about the opposition and particular mention was made of Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney, suggesting that each should possibly think about controlling their calorie intake.
If Frank was upset about such allegations then he took his own style of revenge and capitalised on a good move from Sturridge and some poor Irish defending to equalize just before the half hour mark.
And so the score line remained, 1-1. I’ve read and heard that it wasn’t the most entertaining game to watch, certainly not on the telly box, and both teams have come in for criticism in the press and among their own groups of supporters.
However, for me, my brother, my cousins and the 80,000 other members of the crowd it was hugely entertaining. Wembley is a fantastic stadium, there were two sets of very well behaved supporters who had a lot of fun cheering on their own players while jeering their opposite numbers and the game passed off without much incident, particularly off the pitch.
So even as we walked away from the ground into the misty drizzle and the cool evening air, we were still regaled by Irish songs and chants, the one I particularly dislike and I seem to remember it irked Roy Keane also is “You’ll never beat the Irish” while there’s plenty of proof to suggest otherwise.
Then reference was made to Roy – “Roy Keane, we’ll sing what we want” and this was quickly followed by “There’s only one Keano”. I assume this is a reference to Robbie Keane, the current hero of the Ireland squad and the fact that most Irish supporters have abandoned Roy Keane, his outspoken views on the Ireland team are rarely welcomed by the faithful supporters in green.
But then a group of fans, obviously those who still have a fond memory or two of the original ‘Keano’ piped up – “There’s only two Keano’s” and so the jousting of the chants began.
It generated a laugh and a lively walk to the train station. If you ask me there’s three Keano’s, I still remember Roy’s good times fondly; don’t often agree with him anymore.
Then there’s Robbie Keane and finally, there’s Keano, my friend’s faithful Golden Retriever. And even though he passed away a few years ago he’ll always be the third Keano to me.
image: © Mick Baker